It’s been a tumultuous season for Trevor Bayne.
The dispute stemmed from an edict handed down by Ford Motor Company and Roush Fenway Racing majority owner Jack Roush that prohibited Ford drivers from drafting with non-Ford driving championship contenders Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. After daylong drafting partner Robby Gordon fell by the wayside late in Sunday’s race, Bayne found himself on Jeff Gordon’s front bumper for the final restart. After first pledging to work with his childhood hero down the stretch, Bayne then abandoned the Hendrick Motorsports driver in favor of fellow Ford pilot Matt Kenseth; a move that relegated Gordon to a 27th place finish and snuffed out his flickering hopes for the 2011 championship.
"I didn't expect him to commit to me on the radio," said Gordon after the race. "I expected him to say, ‘Man, I'm sorry. I can't.' So when he said, ‘Yeah, I'm pushing you. We're good," I believed him.
"I was going to go with (Casey Mears)," added the four-time series champion, "but when Trevor lined up behind me and agreed to (work together), I said, `He's got a fast race car and we have a history of working well together.' I thought it was a no-brainer, but I probably should have known better."
Gordon said Bayne approached him after the race and apologized, saying, "Hey, it wasn't me. That's what I'm being told to do."
"I just think it could have been handled better," Gordon said. "If somebody is going to screw you, you'd like them to say it to your face."
While Gordon and his fans are rightly upset with Bayne, Ford drivers were not the only ones looking out for their own Sunday. Gordon carried out his own version of “team orders” at Talladega, repeatedly remaining on track under caution in an attempt to prevent point leader (and Roush Fenway Ford driver) Carl Edwards from leading a lap. Fellow Hendrick Motorsports driver Mark Martin did the same.
While NASCAR “team orders” still fall well short of Formula 1 -- where drivers have pulled over and handed victories to championship-contending teammates -- it is clear that Sunday’s race ushered in a new and unsavory era of team and manufacturer collusion.
Bayne displayed his usual candor after the race, saying via Twitter that he was “strong armed” into abandoning Gordon in the final laps. “I would have rather pulled over and finished last than tell (Gordon) I would work with him and then be strong armed into bailing,” he said. “I'm not happy about what this has become. It's too premeditated. We should be able to go with whoever is around.”
After being criticized by fans on the social networking site, Bayne tweeted, “I agree. That's why I'm so sick about all this. I won't race restrictor plate races next year before I'm put in that situation (again).”
NASCAR is the only professional sport where teammates regularly compete against each other. It is also the only sport where opponents assist each other on the field of play. With tens of millions of dollars on the line, it is not surprising that savvy team owners like Jack Roush and Rick Hendrick have adopted an “us first” mentality in an attempt to win.
If only there was a way to make it seem a little less contrived.